genomics lite: antimicrobial resistance in focus

Exploring how genomics is used to understand and combat antimicrobial resistance
Thu 30th Sep,
4:30pm to 5:45pm

This session will explore what antimicrobial resistance is, how genomics is involved, how it can be researched in the lab, as well as highlighting the career journey of our guest speaker. 

Our guest speaker for Genomics Lite: Antimicrobial Resistance in Focus is Dr Christine Boinett. Christine is a geneticist and bioinformatician who is interested in understanding and tracking antimicrobial resistance to help inform intervention strategies. 

Genomics Lite in Focus is a programme of live webinars to inspire and engage upper secondary school students, teachers and other educational groups. Each talk explores a different field in biology in focus, highlighting how genomics research contributes to understanding the topic.

Each 75 minute session includes a 30 minute talk on the topic, a 15 minute talk about the speakers career journey, and time for Q&A with the audience. Polls and audience questions are used throughout to encourage interaction between the audience and the speaker. 

Session recording:

During the session, we recieved more questions that we had a chance to address in the session. Christine kindly answered for us after the session:

How do mutations that lead to resistance occur – is it random, is it a result of environmental stimulus?

Mutations occur at random due to the error prone replication enzymes (DNA polymerase) that creates new copies of the DNA when the bacterial cell is replicating. In the presence of stress, such as exposure to antibiotics, the rate of mutations may increase as this is the only way the bacteria has evolved to increase its advantage or surviving harsh conditions. 

Are changes that result in resistance epigenetic?

The resistance mutations are inherited by progeny this is known as vertical transmission and are rarely lost unless they are detrimental to the organisms. e.g. cause the bacteria to replicate slowly, also known as a fitness cost. Usually gain in resistance is an evolutionary advantage (Darwin’s theory of evolution), therefore are likely to become fixed and maintained in the population so long as the antibiotic exists and is being used.

I heard that sharkskin is used on hospital walls to kill bacteria – is that true and if so how does it work?

I had not heard of this, but it seems like an expensive idea! Bleach and disinfectants work well a lot of the time. I have only heard of creating surfaces that are sharklike and reinforcing with an antibacterial, you can read more about it here. They basically mimic the shark skin because of its diamondlike rough surface that facilitate self cleaning it may reduce bacterial attachment to surfaces ad make cleaning easier.

Can bacteria lose their resistance?

Yes they can, this will happen at random and is rare. However some bacteria maintain resistance genes long after the drugs cease being used, because the genes are within the vicinity (regions) where resistance genes to clinically relevant drugs are so these ‘old’ genes are maintained in the population

And in general how do the changes get integrated into the genome?

You can carry out comparative genomics - compare a resistant organism to a sensitive one. Alternatively, there are amazing resistance gene databases now that you can screen your genome against that will tell you what resistance genes you bacteria possess - e.g. CARD Database.

Learn more about antimicrobial resistance

These resources are designed to support and further attendees understanding of antimicrobial resistance, and are aimed at students in upper secondary years (e.g. year 10 and higher).

What is antimicrobial resistance?

  • Antimicrobial resistance describes microorganisms - including bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites - that no longer respond to medicines designed to kill them. Antibiotic resistance is where bacteria develop the ability to survive exposure to antibiotics.

  • Antibiotics, like penicillin, are drugs developed to combat bacteria by killing them or stopping them growing. Resistance occurs when these bacteria no longer respond to the drugs designed to kill them.

  • This resistance can spread between bacteria by horizontal gene transfer - the ability of bacteria to transfer their genetic material to each other - through three mechanisms: conjugation, transformation and transduction. 

  • This comic-style game shows how fast this resistance can spread in a colony of bacteria, and the resulting ineffectiveness of an antibiotic treatment. 

  • Watch this video series as an overview of what pathogenic bacteria are, what antibiotics are, and how antibiotic resistance arises and spreads: 

How is antibiotic resistance studied?